“It’s a marketing campaign now.”
That’s how America Unearthed host Scott Wolter described his advocacy of fringe history in an interview broadcast on KFAI Radio in Minneapolis-St. Paul last night in the documentary Minnesota’s Runestone: Whose History Is It? Wolter told interviewer Brigitta Greene that he has stopped trying to work with “academics” because academics try to “baffle me with bullshit” and are closed to new facts. Instead, he said, he hopes to appeal directly to the public in order to foment widespread demand to hold academics accountable for explaining why they reject hyperdiffusionism and historical conspiracy theories.
Minnesota’s Runestone purports to be a program about the way various people use the Kensington Rune Stone, a hoax inscription purporting to tell of a Norse expedition from Vinland to Minnesota in 1362, to construct and re-construct the past, but it’s mostly a profile of Scott Wolter. The documentary is a little rough around the edges, and at times it can be a bit confusing if you don’t already know the details of the Kensington Rune Stone saga, particularly the involvement of the Ohman family and their relationship with Scott Wolter.
Wolter told Greene that one of his most important motivations for defending the Rune Stone was to “protect” the Ohman family, with whom he is close friends. He took a phone call from Darwin Ohman in the middle of his interview with Greene.
Wolter delivers some of his usual bluster about how he’s ready to throw down with anyone who has evidence. “Put your cards on the table. I’ve got three books. Here they are. (Drops books.) Boom!” Later, he says that he’d like academics to tell him why he’s full of shit: “I don’t mind people saying, ‘You’re full of shit,’ but tell me why I’m full of shit.” If his position is somewhat incoherent—simultaneously lambasting and rejecting academics and demanding they engage with him on his terms—his views all revolve around his demand and desire for those he perceives as social elites to engage with him as equals.
Both Scott Wolter and I appear in the documentary, though I was not aware of that fact when I gave Greene an interview about the Kensington Rune Stone in July 2014. I didn’t know that the program would eventually turn into a Wolter profile. Greene interviewed Wolter last fall at his home in St. Paul, which she described as looking like a cabin and housing two “yapping” little dogs.
In an artistic choice I found questionable, Greene chose to ask Wolter about me before telling listeners anything about me. When Greene brought up my name as one of Wolter’s chief internet critics, it resulted in him calling me “nasty” and then saying: “The thing about Colavito is that he’s a debunker. His arguments aren’t sincere. He will not acknowledge a factual point that doesn’t support his arguments. But this is a guy who’s very savvy. He’s figured out how to manipulate the internet to control the discussions to a large degree.” This, as Greene later notes, came from a man who has a national television show he uses to try to influence the public.
After this, Greene features some fuzzy clips from me—we spoke by phone, and it shows—discussing fringe history in general and explaining that far from having a vendetta against Wolter, I had very little knowledge of him before America Unearthed premiered.
The only other person to appear in the program is Robert G. “Bob” Johnson, a Rune Stone speculator and author of The Last Kings of Norse America, who claims that a paper on the Norse empire in central North America that he submitted to an unspecified academic journal was rejected within two business days. Johnson calls this systematic bias against Rune Stone research and says that the editors rejected the paper because they told him that they “know” that the Rune Stone is a fake. (Johnson is best known as the co-discoverer of the hoax AVM Rune Stone.) But even Johnson recognizes that most Rune Stone claims are “not on track, let’s say, and they do make it difficult for people who think they have a real idea.” He singles out the History Channel (i.e. Scott Wolter) for poisoning the debate with outlandish ideas.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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